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Rafi’s Last Interview

This interview of Rafi Sahab is by Jyothi Venkatesh. It appeared in the Star & Style magazine – Aug 22 – Sept 4, 1980.

Little did I realize that this meeting would be Rafi’s last ever interview to the press. He spoke in chaste Urdu to me. Rafi was one of the few filmland celebrities who belonged to the old school of discipline. At the dot of the appointed time, Rafi was waiting for me, after doing his riyaz in the morning.

Rafi Sahab's Last Interview

Rafi always felt that though singing was a God given gift, to maintain your voice is tough. From the year 1942, I have been in this line. I have had my ups and downs. Riyaz is a must if you want to preserve the quality of your voice. I do not smoke, I do not touch liquor. I am pained to see before my eyes, some singers who, after giving one hit song, start acting big only to fall down with a thud soon after.

A humble and publicity-shy celebrity, Rafi’s formula for success was a characteristic, Humility. It is a must for one to be successful in any field. Resorting to Urdu he explained, Kisika dil hamne kabhi dukhaya nahin. Jo kisika dil ko dukhata hai, woh kabhi tarakki nahin karega, zindagi mein.

Rafi was born on December 24, 1924, in Punjab’s Amritsar district. At a very young age, he showed an aptitude for music and he was sent to train under renowned maestro, Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan of Kirana. How he became a playback singer was described by him as follows:

Ab aap ko main kya kya bataoon? I am a native of Lahore. I belong to a very orthodox and conservative Muslim family. I used to sing at friends’ places when I was only 15. During one such occassion, Nasir Khan one of the top producer-actors at that time, spotted me and offered to take me to Bombay and groom me as a singer in films.

Khansaab had asked my father for his permission. My father had refused the offer point blank since he frowned upon the very idea of my taking up singing in films as a career. I was being trained in classical music at that time by my guru Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan of Kirana. When Nasir Khan persisted with the offer my elder brother convinced my Abaajaan to let me go to Bombay. With great reluctance my dad agreed to my pursuing a career as a singer in films.

I made by debut as a playback singer in 1942, with ‘Laila Majnu’, a Nazir – Swarnalatha starrer. The late Pandit Govindram was the music-director of the film. I sang a qawwali as part of the chorus. I had even done a bit role in the film. Later on, I acted in films like ‘Samaj Ko Badal Dalo’ and ‘Jugnu’. In ‘Gaon Ki Gori’, I sang a duet with Noor Jehan under baton of music-director Shyam Sunder.

Before his death, the singer voiced his disillusionment with the music-directors today. Rafi seemed to be visibly pained that music-directors sign films by the dozen, as a result of which the quality of music in films has deteriorated. Very few music directors today work with dedication on their tunes and compose memorable music like Laxmikant Pyarelal did in ‘Sargam’. Most of the others are in this field only to make a fast buck by copying foreign tunes and plagiarising other composers’ tunes.

And lapsing into a flash-back of those good old days, Rafi had launched into a tirade against film-making today and the role of the music director. Film-making wasn’t merely a business proposition during those days when institutions reigned supreme and free-lancing hadn’t become popular in the film industry. Believe it or not, I used to be paid a meager amount of Rs. 75/- in those days for one song!

When I entered the line, there were, of course, popular singers like Saigal Saab, G.M.Durrani and Khan Mastan. Unka Khoobi yeh tha janab ki instead of considering me as yet an other competitor they encouraged me to give my best. In fact I remember the first time I met Saigal Saab at Lahore where he had come to give a concert on the stage. The mike had failed at the last minute. While it was being set right, I was asked to keep the audience engaged by singing a couple of songs. I was only 15 then. I had not yet met Nasir Khan or Shyam Sundar. Saigal Saab blessed me that day and predicted that a day would come when I would be a sought after singer.

Melody and classical training were primary in the beginning when I set my foot in the field of film music in the early forties. Today, however, music has degenerated into just shor! In those days, I remember we singers used to help interlude music, whereas today it is the other way round. A situation has come today when the musical interludes help playback singer.

Perhaps not many are aware of the fact that Rafi wasn’t a Shylock where his payments were concerned. Unlike Kishore Kumar who won’t sing unless and until he is paid his remuneration before the recording, Rafi is said to have sung even for a token amount of one rupee! Though I insist on being paid my price by commercial film-makers who can afford it, I sing for small budget films, including regional films, for a much lower price. Money isn’t the only criterion for me to accept a film. Out of my earnings, I keep aside a sizable amount for charitable purposes but I prefer not to tom tom it because I do not want to seek publicity for those acts.

In spite of several years of experience in the field, Rafi never composed music for any film. In fact, producer-director S. Mukherjee had asked me to compose music for one of his films, sometime back. I turned down his offer because it is my firm belief that one should be perfect in only one field. Look at Talat Mahmood. He took up acting and after he could click neither as a singer nor as an actor.

Film personalities paying their last respects.

The late Mukeshbhai took up production and lost heavily when the films he made flopped. If I were to agree to compose music for film today, the other music directors would start feeling that I might steal their tunes for my own films and hence they might even stop assigning me the job of singing for them.

Unfortunately, Khuda willed otherwise and took Rafi away at a time when he was once again emerging as a force to reckon with, with films like “Hum Kisise Kam Nahin”, “Amar Akbar Anthony”, “Sargam” and “Mr. Natwarlal”, after his forced exile in the early seventies when Kishore Kumar had taken over from Rafi.

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109 Blog Comments to “Rafi’s Last Interview”

  1. Ulfat Batalvi says:

    Aaj bhi achha gaane waale hain Par Md Rafi nahin Milta. Rafi sahib is above all comments Hesshould be awarded Bharat Ratna

  2. Dr. Amit Sharad says:

    An embodiment of music and so humble person who was citizen of masses. We respect him and love him a lot and wish his soul rest in peace.

  3. rakesh Verma says:

    Rafi Is Great Singer,
    No words to brief Rafi Sahib,

  4. pradeep Tuljapurkar says:

    I have great heartfelt respect for this great singer, my adorable singer Late sri Mohd. Rafi sahabji. I tried to sing his songs on stage but couldn’t reach even somewhere near to his melodious voice. I had a memorable, unforgettable day in my life when I tried to sing ” O Duniya ke Rakhwale” in his live style adding classical touch and the huge response I received from the Theatreful audiance. I owe it to this wonderful great singer. I know that, I am equelant to the dust of this Great Singer’s underfeet. This programme we had staged after a few months of his sad demise in Raichur(Karnataka) titling EK SHAAM RAFI KE NAAM.
    I have great honour, adoration, love, prayers and much more for this melodious, loveable unmatchable Singer MOHD. RAFI SAHABJI.

  5. saman says:

    My life would have been incomplete without M. Rafi’s songs. I bless the gentleman about a hundred times each day, specially after every prayer and while listening to his soulful songs on Jalwa 9x, Mastiii tv, B4U music, Sony Six, etc, every evening. I stay awake the night through so as not to miss out on any of his songs. The snow-covered mountains in the background, the tall deodar trees swaying in the breeze, and Mohd Rafi’s jadoo-bhari voice, move me to tears. I pray to God that after I die, provided I deserve to be in heaven, I only want to be in the mountains with Mohd Rafi’s songs and O.P. Nayyar’s and Shankar Jaikishen’s music. Please God, like praying 5 times a day and glorifying You in our prayers (Subhan Allah) I say Subhan Allah and also Kiya Teri Shaan Allah when listening to M. Rafi and drinking in the mpountains. This is the intensity of my passion for Rafi’s voice.

  6. Binu Nair says:

    Great Songs of Rafi saaheb to be featured in Shankar Jaikishan Musical such as:

    Yaad Na jaaye beeten dinon ki

    Yeh mera prem patra padkar,

    Aawaz dekar hamem tum bulana

    Unke khayal aaye to aate chalegaye

    by anil bajpai and our team of singers

    at rangasharada, sunday march 10, mumbai

    if the music is good, the heart will sing.

  7. Vijay nagar says:

    Jism ki mout koi mout nahi hoti hai,
    Jism MIT jane se elan nahi mar jate,
    Hoth jam Jane se farman nahi mar jate.

  8. Binu Nair says:

    oh no.. how can mohd rafi go away from us……..

    the rafi foundation.

  9. V M SHINDE says:

    Sorry,very common & ignorant one to pay humble tribute to Rafi sahab,when heart is full words become orphan. Rafi sahab was, is and will be THE Greatest Endowmemt to Humanity for ever. One day His heavenly voice and the words of those evergreen poets ,would bring the Human race together irrespective of cast, creed,relegion and geographical artificial lines. Many thanks to you Sirs, over there for providing an opportunity to submit homage to my dearest soul on this earth.

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